It’s the smell of fresh cut grass and overly priced beer. The crack of the bat. A smell that takes you back. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, baseball is finally here again.
The beginning of the season brings hope for an October run for every team (yes, even for the Astros). And while every year brings with it storylines, here are the top ten you should look out for in 2014.
Can the Red Sox Repeat?
After one of its worst seasons in franchise history, the Red Sox redeemed themselves by capturing the World Series. But just as the baseball gods giveth, the baseball gods taketh. And the taketh come in the form of Jacoby Ellsbury, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and most likely Stephen Drew.
The Sox still have its pitching to lean on, but will have to rely on young prospects to pick up for what left.
Miguel Cabrera and the Race for another MVP:
For the past two seasons, Miguel Cabrera has been in a league of his own and the Tigers rewarded him by way of a $292 million contract. Cabrera challenged for the Triple Crown last season and will be in the hunt again this year. However, with no Prince Fielder around, he might feel the pressure of living up to the big contract even more.
Mike Scioscia’s Fate in the Hands of Pujols and Hamilton:
To say the Angels underperformed last season would be an understatement. Albert Pujols played in only 99 games, hampered by injury the entire season and Josh Hamilton had a nightmare start. Not even another monster year by Mike Trout saved the Angels.
This year is postseason or bust for the Angels and the stakes are high for manager Mike Scioscia. One of the best managers in baseball, Scioscia might be fired if Pujols and Hamilton have another lackluster season.
Derek Jeter’s Final Season:
For 19 years Derek Jeter has been the face of the New York Yankees, but that will end after he announced he will retire at season’s end. Jeter has been the epitome of consistency, professionalism and fearlessness and will no doubt leave a hole in the game once he’s gone.
With the Yankees in contention for the division title, there’s no better way of ending Jeter’s legendary career than by winning the World Series.
Expectations High in Dodgertown:
Hollywood drama isn’t limited to just the movies in Los Angeles. So many storylines surround the Dodgers this year; it’s hard to tell where to begin. How will Don Mattingly handle the outfield if Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp remain healthy? Will Puig create conflict in the clubhouse? Can the pitching avoid any more injuries?
The team has all the talent and star power to win a World Series, but not many things go according to script in Tinseltown. This year could go either way.
Strasburg and the Nationals:
This could be the year Strasburg becomes the best pitcher in baseball. The 25-year-old has shown signs he has the stuff to be elite, and with a stacked team, the Nationals could make a long run in October.
Expanded Instant Replay:
MLB experimented with expanded instant replay during spring training and to the delight of fans who have spent years complaining about missed calls from their couches, instant replay has the green light in 2014.
Each manager will have one challenge and calls are reviewable by umpires after the sixth inning. The question that surrounds it is how much time will it add to the game. Regardless, this is a potentially monumental moment for the sport.
Robinson Cano Finally “The Guy”:
He’s the $240 million man who passed on New York for Seattle. In New York, Cano was just another star player in a clubhouse filled with them. Now he finally gets the opportunity to lead a team, and a young team at that. Cano instantly becomes the leader for the Mariners and will have to sit through the growing pains of a team that still has a lot to learn.
Will there be a Ryan Braun Comeback:
Ryan Braun lied to MLB and fans everywhere when he denied PED use. That caught up to him in a big way: a 65-game suspension that ended his 2013 season. Braun battled through injury last year but returns healthy and the numbers during spring training showed he still is a high caliber player. Now to see if PEDs were what made him a great player during the regular season.
Are the Pirates a Fluke:
Pittsburgh developed into a serious contender last season and who knows how far they could have gone if it weren’t for the Cardinals. Last year’s NL MVP Andrew McCutchen certainly won’t be able to do it all by himself this year and the rest of the Bucs’ lineup will indicate if they can make the postseason again.